Our regular food blogger Rosemary Moon has been finding out more about Orkney's fantastic salmon, farmed at a number of sites in the clean, clear and cool waters around the islands. Keep reading for a delicious recipe for you to try at home too.
Orcadians and visitors alike enjoy the sandy beaches around our islands, with the Polar Bears, our renowned year-round swimming group, bravely plunging into the sea almost every day. Some swim without wetsuits in summer and winter: I have managed a few quick dips without one during this very warm summer and can assure you that the sea is cold! Further offshore, it is the cold, deep, waters and the strong oceanic currents that make Orkney the home of the best quality and most sought-after salmon produced in UK waters
Orkney has no wild salmon which, combined with modern aquaculture and our maritime conditions, keeps the fish clean and in perfect health. These are the requirements of the most exacting of supermarket customers and, as Orkney’s two salmon-producing companies, Scottish Sea Farms and Cooke Aquaculture, supply M&S and Waitrose respectively, it is easy to see that Orkney salmon can claim to be 'the Best'. Richard Darbyshire of Scottish Sea Farms, the M&S Outstanding Producer of the Year for 2018, explained to me that the success of aquaculture in Orkney supports not only the two companies and their farming partners, but many associated local and Scottish businesses too; from haulage contractors to electricians and net makers. The demand for Orkney branded salmon is growing, with destinations as diverse as Dubai and Belgium joining France as growing markets.
Orkney is where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean and so, even on supposedly calm days, the tides are racing below the surface. Take a ferry trip to Westray and you will feel the strength of the tide as you pass Eday. Salmon raised in such active waters are lean and well-muscled, so the flesh is firm and sweet with no surplus fat, which can occur when farms are sited in less active seas.
Fresh Orkney salmon is available in all the local food shops, from Pierowall in Westray to St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay. Jollys of Orkney are a big local retailer for fresh salmon, offering fillets at The Brig Larder in Bridge Street as well as the original shop at Hatston Industrial Estate. Jollys, a 65-year-old company which George and Anne Stout took over seven years ago, is the biggest smoker of Orkney salmon in the islands. Smoked salmon is an important year-round product, peaking for the Christmas trade but hugely popular in all seasons.
It is essential to have a firm and well-muscled fish for it to take the flavour during the smoking process. “That’s why Orkney smoked salmon is so good,” said George. “The fish raised in the waters around the islands have to swim hard against the currents. Then we can enhance the salmon’s natural flavour with our cures and smoking.”
Jolly’s use a traditional 3-level kiln for its smoking process, which usually takes about 24 hours, although I was interested to hear that it is slightly quicker on windy days, making the skill of the vigilant smoker key to success. Orkney’s vibrant food and drink scene also provides opportunities for collaborations: Jollys latest smoked salmon is flavoured with Kirkjuvagr Gin and it sells a Highland Park whisky-cured salmon too.
An internet search for Orkney smoked salmon takes you to the hampers prepared by Judith Glue. Judith’s salmon is sourced from Westray, where both regular and organic fish are produced and some of the salmon is then either hot or cold smoked for the local market by Pierowall Fish. They have a small counter in their premises overlooking Pierowall Bay where they also sell other Westray produce. Kevin at Pierowall Fish cures a smoked salmon with an Orkney-produced Scapa whisky for Judith Glue, a whisky which I think is one of the very best for food and drink matching. Pierowall Fish supply a good range of Westray-caught fish, usually frozen, to many of the local shops around the islands which are both a lifeline to locals and a delight to visitors.
A relatively new producer of smoked products in Orkney is Humes Quality Artisan Foods, a small scale business with the SmokeShack in the back garden of Ian and Anthea Hume’s home. Ian, a retired fisherman who worked on deep-sea trawlers, is now enjoying having the time to practice the skill of smoking which his father taught him. Hume’s Orkney smoked salmon, as well as other products from their delicious and eclectic range, are available at William Shearer in Kirkwall who, with many other retailers, do so much to champion local foods. Some of Hume’s products are robustly smoked but their salmon is delicately prepared and is a fine addition to the range of Orcadian smoked salmons.
For cooks and chefs, salmon is one of the most versatile of fish - I have written many recipes in which it stars and find it perfect for curries where pieces of fish, rather than flakes, are required. Of course it is a top ingredient in the cafes and restaurants of Orkney and, whilst I cannot mention every dish that I have enjoyed, the salmon topped salad bowls at Archive Coffee and the Watersound salmon on the menu at The Sands Hotel in Burray stand out in my memory.
For more information on Scottish Sea Farms 'Outstanding Producer of the Year' Award from M&S, see my blog at myorkneylarder.com.
Orkney Salmon Pate
Light, zingy and full of glorious flavour, this pate can be made with just cooked salmon but I prefer to use a mixture of cooked and smoked, for colour, texture and flavour. Try it with Orkney beremeal bannocks, or use it as a sauce on freshly cooked pasta. It also makes an excellent filling for baked potatoes but when the Orkney new tatties are in season just spoon some pate on top of them when freshly cooked.
Small bunch chervil or parsley
1 tbsp capers
4-5cm piece fresh root ginger
350-400g salmon - a mix of cooked and smoked
200-250g tub crème fraîche, half fat is best
1-2 tbsp horseradish
Wash and shake the chervil or parsley dry. Roughly chop it, then add the capers and chop again. Coarsely grate the ginger, skin on. Chop the smoked salmon and flake the cooked.
Add the crème fraîche to the bowl with the horseradish, herbs and capers and beat until combined. Gather up the ginger strands in your hand and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Add the salmon and mix. Season to taste.
Serve with bere bannocks, on oatcakes or hot buttered toast.
Try this: When in season, grate a Russet apple, toss in lemon juice and add to the pate.
Drink with: this is excellent with Swannay Brewery’s Banyan, or a dram of Scapa Skiren.
Thank you to Susan Walls Ceramics for the beautiful plate and bowl used during our photoshoot - find her on Facebook.
Rosemary Moon ‘retired’ to Orkney after a long association with the salmon industry in the islands. The author of 19 cookery books and countless more recipes, including writing for Waitrose and Lakeland, she has brought journalists and food writers to Orkney in the past to show off our diverse and delicious food and drink. After several holidays here Rosemary and her husband Nick have settled in South Ronaldsay but, once a cookery writer always a cookery writer, Rosemary is finding it impossible to stop jotting down the new recipes that she is creating with the island produce.
Rosemary also writes and vlogs about whisky and is particularly interested in whisky and food matching. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram and on her rosemarymoon.com and myorkneylarder.com websites.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.